How to Fast or Detox According to Your Specific Health Needs



While you may think you know how to fast–by not eating for several days–there’s actually a lot to it.

There is a lot of discussion surrounding the latest (and enduring) detoxification craze. More and more cold-pressed juice bars about popping up and the green juice has become the new morning must-have, can’t-live-without cup (or two) of coffee. Raw, vegan foods are making waves and the no-added-sugar, gluten-free labels are putting the white flour and white sugar culprits where they should be: in the past. But, when it comes to a more extreme method of “internal cleansing”, such as fasting, how far is too far? While it is always a good idea to introduce more greens and fresher, higher-alkaline foods to the diet to take the place of acidic ones, is fasting too extreme? Better yet, is fasting accelerating the detoxification process or, is it doing the opposite?

Fasting is an abstention from food, and sometimes drink, for longer than regular periods. While this is entirely focused on the health benefits of fasting, fasting has religious roots. It is something that has been practiced for centuries, particularly in connection with religious ceremonies. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Taoists, among others, have practiced fasting. The ritual served a variety of purposes, from inducing fertility, penitence, achieving a near death state, purification and reflection.

From the health perspective, which I will focus on, there is no direct answer as to how to fast properly. The bottom line is: it’s not good for everyone and thus may not be good for you. The worst thing people do when they see a well-packaged, aesthetically-appealing looking “detox” juice cleanse or a getaway to an exotic location where they fast for 1 week or more, is that they let their ego get in the way of their true state of being. Fasting is not something to get ideal and ambitious about – it’s a matter of respecting and listening to your body. A fast, or any detox for that matter, should be tailored to your starting point.

Someone who depends on a Standard American Diet (SAD, how fitting!) for sustenance will not endure a fast quite the same way as a raw foodist would. If you are someone who suffers from certain health ailments and regularly consumes processed, cooked, not organic, sugary, salty, meat and dairy-heavy foods, you are already coming from an acidic disposition and going on a fast, cold-turkey, will prove too taxing for your body beyond a certain point and may do more harm the good.

When you fast, your digestive system takes a break from metabolism and instead focuses on other bodily processes. From a health perspective, this is the purpose of a fast – let the body repair itself without expending energy on processing food and other drinks besides, say, water or fruit and vegetable juices. If you’re body is used to an acidic diet, it will begin to release toxins into the blood stream at a rate too fast for your elimination channels to respond to in time. This flood of toxins into the blood stream without an easy exit will cause you to feel noticeably sluggish, full of mind fog, breaking out and constipated, among others. The chances of you getting unmotivated and bee-lining it to the nearest drive-thru to indulge are also more likely in the works.

However, say, instead of fasting all day, you introduce one meal at dinner. You may notice that you will feel better and your body will be able to keep pace with detoxification by introducing something to offset the undulation of toxins into the blood stream. This is a rough example of what a fast can do to people who go hardcore at the onset and what can be done to offset it. The trick is to find the line that leads to progress, not perfection-turned-dangerous.

This isn’t to say a proper fast will be easy, so if it gets hard you shouldn’t quit altogether – it will be relatively trying no matter what, especially since you are teaching your body a new trick – but it is to note that you should be aware of how your body is reacting during the process. If fasting symptoms are a notch above uncomfortable, incorporate a smoothie into the fast or something with fiber to slow down detoxification and the symptoms associated with it.

Moreover, a fast doesn’t have to be a no-drink, no-food game. A fast (better: detox regimen) can be relative to your situation. If you have a highly acidic diet, start a fast that replaces a regular sandwich meal with a salad one. Next, you can replace breakfast with a green smoothie instead of bacon and eggs. After that, you can take out snacking so often. Progress, not perfection! In this way, you are teaching your body to work better and honoring it with greener, more nourishing foods. Relative to your old diet, it is improvement, and your body will inevitably respond in ways better than if you went on a 7-day water fast. When you reach a point where you are happy with your diet and are eating mostly alkaline foods with little processed, animal and sugar-laden products in the mix, then maybe you can consider a short-term, more-intense fast to transition to a new season or take out last month’s trash.

However you do it, make it you! And always consult with your primary care physician before embarking on any type of detox or fast. 

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Photo Credit: Andrew Hyde